Technology continues to advance rapidly, and so do different forms of online crime. Among them is the crime of Cyber-Extortion, which is defined as demanding money, information or other gains from people and companies by threatening to publish private or shameful matters and confidential data on social media.
In this article, we will provide you with basic information about this crime and how to deal with similar situations if you or someone you know is being a victim of such a crime.
The different ways in which Cyber-Extortion is carried out continue to develop along with advancements in technology. This has meant that the laws regulating the crime have to be continuously updated and reviewed in order to reflect the changing nature of the crime. Despite amendments in the law, the rate of commission of this crime is on the rise as more sophisticated methods of exploiting victims are being used.
Cybercrime is committed through the use of technology and against individuals or groups with the intent to harm. The harm may be direct or indirect, physical, psychological, or financial, and the victim can suffer long-lasting impacts of the crime. It is most often committed through social media, using information or data obtained through hacking personal accounts such as Facebook and Instagram, or recovering the contents of a mobile phone after it has been sold or stolen.
It can also occur when the victims themselves consensually or under duress send their photos and videos to others (including friends or intimate partners), who in turn use the content for the purpose of threatening the victim and forcefully gaining something in return.
The perpetrator usually puts pressure on the victim and threatens to publish personal or compromising information, pictures, or recordings that the victim does not want to share publicly.
The perpetrator will usually target victims who are vulnerable including young people, children, or the elderly. Women and girls are often targeted with the purpose of publishing pictures or conversations with explicit or private content. Men and boys can also be victims of this type of extortion, though to a lesser extent than their female counterparts.
Why do perpetrators commit cyber-extortion?
Perpetrators of blackmail and extortion can be motivated by a wide variety of factors.
In general, the motives are usually material or financial, psychological, or emotional. The perpetrator may not necessarily know the victim they are targeting and may be unaware of the impact the crime if making on their life. The goal in these cases is often related to gaining financial benefit at the cost of the victim but can also involve a motive of inflicting psychological harm. In cases where the perpetrator knows the victim personally, the perpetrator can also be motivated by financial gain as well as the desire to cause psychological harm to the victim, often for retaliation if the victim refused the advances of the perpetrator or broke up a relationship with the perpetrator.
Each case is unique and should be treated as such by law enforcement. The common theme between all cyber-extortion cases is the negative effects the crime has on victims, which can be long lasting. This sort of crime can lead to significant harm including long-term psychological harm, suicide, honour killings, as well as damage to an individual’s education, career prospects and financial stability.
The rise in cyber extortion crimes in Iraq
Recent years have witnessed a significant increase in the number of cyber-crimes committed in Iraq. The Ministry of Interior has documented many crimes that target and lure victims, especially girls and women. For example, the Iraqi police arrested around 60 people who formed gangs to target teenage girls, seize their pictures, and blackmail them in exchange for paying money or sex. These gangs or individual perpetrators often hack social media accounts including Facebook or Instagram, as well as smartphones in order to seize inappropriate photos and videos to be used to blackmail victims. If this has happened to you, you are not alone. You can report these crimes.
The penalty for electronic extortion
According to Iraqi law, cyber-crimes are divided into many parts, including threats and extortion crimes, in Articles between 430 - 432 of the Penal Code. The penalty for such crimes, depending on the severity of the crime, is imprisonment for a period between one year and seven years.
What to do if you are a victim of cyber-crime?
First: Do not try to respond to the blackmailer or persuade them not to publish your photos. This may lead them to believe that you are vulnerable, aggressive, or responsive to their demands, which may cause them to increase or validate their demands.
Second: Do not provide them with your bank account details or pay them. Your response the first time may encourage them to ask for more money, or more photos and videos. If they threaten you with violence, then contact the police.
Third: Store the content you are blackmailed with, or any other personal and sensitive content, in a safe and secure place that cannot be accessed or hacked. Do not to delete the content nor the threatening messages doing this you could delete evidence that could be used to convict the perpetrator and allow them to be the only possessor of the content.
Fourth: While you should not get rid of incriminating evidence, you should block the blackmailer from following your accounts on social media and change all passwords for your accounts and e-mail immediately. Do not have the same password for different accounts, instead use different passwords that incorporate numbers, letters, and symbols to increase your online security.
Fifth: If you feel safe to do so, tell a reliable person what happened to you, to provide you with psychological support and so they can provide evidence in your favour if needed in court. If you are able to, seek psychological support for a trained professional, as electronic blackmail can have significant effects on mental and psychological wellbeing.
Sixth: If you are in Iraq, contact the Police or the National Security Agency and the Cybercrime Division of the Criminal Evidence Investigation Directorate. This will enable a formal accusation to be made against the blackmailer. You can find methods to contact authorities, at the end of this article.
If you or anyone you know is in danger, call the police immediately (Iraq and KRI: 104)
The National Security Agency and the Cybercrime Division of the Criminal Evidence Investigation Directorate.
In recent years The Iraqi Government, specifically the Ministry of Interior, has implemented measures in order to protect citizens from electronic extortion and all electronic crimes. A significant step forward was the creation of an anti-extortion telephone hotline number in Iraq, which enables victims to contact and report cyber-crime.
Methods for reporting electronic extortion:
- The Iraqi Ministry of Interior has designated two agencies for this purpose, namely the National Security Agency and the Cybercrime Division of the Criminal Evidence Investigation Directorate. To report cybercrime in Iraq, call the 24hour government hotline on 131 or 533
- Police In addition to the hotline, victims of blackmail or extortion can file a complaint at the nearest or police station. Details and evidence of the extortion, threat or blackmail should be provided as evidence. Intimate photos should not have to be provided in full.
The judge will refer the complaint to the investigation officer at the respective police station to carry out a legal investigation. For people who feel unsafe filing a complaint in court, hotlines are safer and easier to reach and may provide an immediate solution.
Cybercrime can be difficult to prosecute particularly when the crime has been committed overseas. However, it is worth reporting if you feel safe to do so. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call the police.
Important advice to avoid being a victim of Cyber-extortion crime:
The following are some tips for people to increase their safety online and reduce the chances of becoming a victim of cybercrime:
- Secure the electronic device, whether it is a computer or a smartphone, and not use applications and links that are not trusted.
- Avoid posting important/personal data and information about you on social media.
- Avoid sharing any explicit pictures or videos on social media so that they are not easily seized and used as an excuse for extortion.
- Do not keep any private videos or pictures on the mobile phone, because of the risk of being stolen if the phone itself is stolen and save them on an external hard drive that is kept in a secure and safe place.
- Change passwords regularly and do not use the same password for different accounts/platforms.
- Choose strong passwords for your social media accounts, which are words that are difficult for the hacker to guess so that they are far from your name and date of birth, as well as the numbers 123 in succession, which are the passwords that users often prefer.
- Write your passwords on a piece of paper and keep it in a secure place where no one knows, and never share your passwords with anyone no matter how much you trust them.
- Check and increase your security and privacy settings on all social media accounts
- If you decide to sell your phone, do not just scan the pictures and phone numbers, then exit from all your accounts on your mobile phone before selling or discarding it. You must "format" the device, then turn on the video camera and leave the phone in a dark room, for example, until the internal phone memory is completely filled, and at that time the phone will turn off the camera automatically, then delete the video, this is how you make sure that anyone who tries to recover the contents of the camera will only find this dark video.
For more information or support:
In addition to the hotlines provided in this article, these links can also provide you with information or support if you are being a victim or afraid of cyber-extortion:
- Cyber warriors Facebook page
- Combating Cyber-Extortion in Iraq Facebook Page
- National Cyber Security Alliance Website
- Reporting Cybercrime - click here
- The Cyber Helpline Website
- UN Office on Drugs and Crime website
Sources used to create this article: